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Pssst! Here’s the Dish on Lady Teazle

For Shannon Taylor, performing in The School for Scandal has been a special lesson in period comedy.

A native of Barrie, Ontario, Shannon Taylor was first introduced to Stratford audiences when she played Liesl in the 2001 production of The Sound of Music.

"I had always been interested in performance," she says. "I grew up in an outgoing, energetic family, and my dad likes to joke that my brother was my first director. I got involved with Barrie's Strolling Youth Players when I was 10 - and that was a real training ground for me over six years, performing shows in malls and libraries and at Gryphon Theatre.

"I also attended the Etobicoke School for the Arts because there I could major in musical theatre. And that's when Stratford called around looking for suitable young people to play the Von Trapp children. It was thrilling to be here at that age, living in the community and performing at the Festival for an entire season. I think that's when everything really came into focus for me. Up until then, theatre had been recreational; but then I was here surrounded by people who were actually performing for a living, and my outlook changed to 'Oh - I could do this!' "

Ms Taylor went on to get her BFA from Ryerson, and her dearest wish was to return to Stratford. "I auditioned twice, but it just didn't happen for me. Not yet. I ended up at The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program, and that was an excellent place to really hone skills and have a chance at good roles. From there, I travelled all over Canada and built up my resumé with shows like A Midsummer Night's Dream, Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. Coming back to Stratford for the Birmingham Conservatory with all of that experience behind me meant that I was more ready than ever to be trained and focus on the work. The timing was right, and I am very grateful for that in the end."

Playing Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 18th-century comedy The School for Scandal has been a joyful experience for Ms Taylor. The cast has a lovely balance of up-and-coming actors working alongside some of Canada's best-known and best-loved names, including Rod Beattie, Tom Rooney, Joseph Ziegler, Brent Carver and Geraint Wyn Davies - who plays Lady Teazle's baffled and besotted husband, Sir Peter.

"I did one of Ger's WordPlay staged readings in the past," says Ms Taylor, "but this is my first time working with him [in a full production]. I am learning so much playing opposite him. He is so joyous and jolly and connected with the audience, as well as everyone else on stage. He is an extremely generous performer - and that air of availability he demonstrates is so genuine. When he first steps on in his everyday clothes, he reaches out and seamlessly bridges the modern audience from the here-and-now back to the 18th century."

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Much of the comedy of the piece centres on the dynamics between former long-time bachelor Sir Peter and his much younger new bride. They seem to do nothing but bicker, and one might easily despair of them ever finding happiness in their marriage.

"Our director, Antoni Cimolino, really wanted to show the true love between the Teazles," Ms Taylor says. "It's a very new marriage: when we first meet them, they are only six months in. There are bound to be growing pains with their contrasting social backgrounds and their age difference. Antoni kept me on track about who the real Lady Teazle was before she married - she was a country girl with simple tastes and a quiet life."

Marrying into wealth and status, Lady Teazle finds herself suddenly at the epicentre of London high society as a lady of fashion. She is surrounded by glittering novelty and deliciously naughty gossip at every turn - and is soon swept up in the mad swirl of frivolity, to the consternation of Sir Peter. Clearly smitten by his lovely young bride, even in her tetchy moments, he is willing and eager to please her. But can he hope for happiness with this once-innocent country girl who has so clearly lost touch with her true self?

"There is a moment for Lady Teazle that changes everything," says Ms Taylor. "The literal and figurative screen comes down, and she has no place to hide. She is forced to take a hard look at herself and see her mistakes. Antoni wanted to show the audience that Lady Teazle isn't always shallow and bad - after all, this is a first marriage for them both. It's a huge compromise for them - the first time both of them have had to live with someone and fully share their lives. There are bound to be moments when things do not go smoothly. But there has to be a genuine love felt between them or it just doesn't work."

This season, Ms Taylor also shares the Festival Theatre stage with Mr. Wyn Davies in Twelfth Night, in which she plays Olivia to his Sir Toby Belch.

"Their dynamic is quite different, obviously. We aren't in as many scenes together, but there is a great deal of warmth and affection between Olivia and Sir Toby. There is a lot of fondness in that relationship, and much genuine concern on her part about his continual boozing and the effects it has on his well-being."

Besides the continuous mutual learning and inspiration between the different generations of performers, she has drawn lessons from her first experience of performing a play by Sheridan.

"The cast in general found it a bigger challenge than Shakespeare when it came to learning our lines. We just don't speak the language the way Sheridan writes it down - it's absolutely packed with qualifiers, like 'by your leave' and 'to be sure,' and that makes it difficult to memorize. But over this nice long run, we are truly making the words our own and bringing it all to life.

"One of the other big learning curves was adapting to movement in the elaborate and voluminous costumes. My gown and wig are both the largest I have ever had to wear on stage, and it really informs your character's every move learning the best way to navigate in those skirts, or having the balance of your head thrown off by a tall wig.

"It's wonderful, and I am surrounded by a great group of supportive people who have the very best skills and attitudes in the business. That makes both the work and life in Stratford rewarding over such a long season."
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Production support for The School for Scandal is generously provided by M. Fainer, by Drs. M.L. Myers and the late W.P. Hayman and by the Tremain family.

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A Chat with Festival Favourite Steve Ross

Beloved by audiences for his quirky loveable characters, Steve Ross gives star turns in both of this season’s hit musicals.
Q: When were you first bitten by the acting bug?

Steve Ross: I came to acting quite late, comparatively speaking. I never did it in high school: I was told I couldn't sing, so I moved on to playing trumpet in the band. I then studied sports medicine at Western University but decided to take some time off after my first year. During that year, a friend asked me to take a summer school drama course with her. Because I was older than much of the class, I was cast in a lead role in one of the plays - and I got a laugh, and then another. I was hooked. What a gift! I've been obsessed with comedy, and why and how it works ever since.

What do you love most about performing in musical theatre?

It's hard to pick just one thing. I love the challenge of moving from speaking to singing and making that believable. There's a rule of thumb in musical theatre that says, "When you can no longer speak - when the stakes are just too high - you must sing." Making that believable for the audience is a wonderful challenge. I also love trying to find the journey within a song - the arc: I start in one place, and by the end of the song we've moved forward into a different place. Music truly has amazing powers. There's a true joy in it.

How did you feel about the roles you've been cast in this season? Are Captain Corcoran and Nicely-Nicely Johnson dream parts for you?

I had the good fortune to play Nicely-Nicely 10 years ago. It was a great experience, but I wanted to do a longer run so I could keep trying to figure out this wonderful fellow. So I absolutely jumped at the chance to play him again. What a gift to be 10 years older (and hopefully wiser) and to have Donna Feore to bat ideas back and forth with as my director! To have her guidance was invaluable. This is a nice, long run of the show as well, so I get to continue to work and finesse as the season progresses.

As for Captain Corcoran, I love him too. This is a kind of man that I don't often get to play. He's somewhat tightly wound; he's got a lot on his plate when the show begins and he has to please many masters. The more serious I am with him, the better the comedy works. Lezlie Wade (our director) is a big fan of all sorts of comedy - screwball comedy, vaudeville - all very precise and intricate. It was a perfect match for my obsession with why comedy works - what is funny and why? We laughed a lot in rehearsals for both shows.
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These shows represent two quite different styles of comedy, don't they?

I feel so lucky to get to play in such different styles. Donna talked a lot about energy in Guys and Dolls. Much of the show takes place in the heart of Times Square in New York City. Having been there several times, I know there is a very specific kind of energy emanating from that small area. It's fast. It's aggressive. And it's a lot of fun to try to recreate that in our show.

On the other hand, we get to go to England and play with all of the properness and decorum that's involved with HMS Pinafore. I watched a lot of Downton Abbey just to get an idea of dynamics of the family structure. What would it be like to have a grown and very headstrong daughter who didn't want to do what I felt was best for her? How would it feel if the man you think is perfect for your daughter is the very same man who could make or break your entire career? We tried to go after all these sorts of questions to keep things more real. Lezlie is so wonderful in the way she is always looking for the truth in the scenes and the songs. This truth is what makes it easier to play day after day. It helps keep things fresh.

What are the most endearing aspects of these two characters? Do you have any favourite moments with them?

I'm a huge fan of playing characters without guile. Without an agenda. I love a character with a big and open heart, and I'm blessed to find two such men in Nicely and the Captain. Donna referred to Nicely once as "mono-focused," and that is the perfect word for him. Such a helpful concept - it allowed me to really be focused on one task at a time, be it food or gambling or a girl. I think it would be too easy to make Nicely come off as dumb: I didn't want that for him, and neither did Donna, so that term was an enormous help in shaping him.

As for the Captain, I've never played someone before who sincerely just wants what's best for all concerned: his daughter, his crew, himself. However, he's not ever quite sure how to go about achieving that. That's a true gift for an actor: one just goes out there every night and tries to achieve these goals. If you meet the goals, that's great - but it's the process of trying that makes it fun.

As for favourite moments, I love all the food Nicely gets to munch on. Donna and I had a blast figuring out what sort of food would be perfect for each situation. It's amazing how much thought went into snack food! Ha!

And for the Captain, I love all of my scenes with Lisa Horner, who plays Buttercup. She is one of my best friends in the whole world, and getting to fall in love with her every night is pretty wonderful.

Just for fun: when you aren't performing, what's your favourite thing to do in Stratford?

I'm something of a homebody when I'm not performing. I like to walk a lot, and try to take different routes around town. It's nice to see the new construction - it was great to watch as the new Market Square took shape. I also try to keep up the craft of things: I try to read as many plays as I can, and find new monologues and songs that I can work on and keep in my audition portfolio. One never knows when the next chance will come to audition, so it's always good to keep things as sharp as possible.

I also really love to cook, so I spend a lot of my Mondays off combing through cookbooks and trying out new recipes.

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"When you can no longer speak - when the stakes are just too high - you must sing."

Production support for Guys and Dolls is generously provided by Mary Ann & Robert Gorlin, by Riki Turofsky & Charles Petersen and by Catherine & David Wilkes. Production Co-Sponsors, RBC Royal Bank and Union Gas Limited.

Production support for HMS Pinafore is generously provided by Nona Macdonald Heaslip.

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High-Performance Thrills: Treasure Island’s Wonder Woman

Actor and aerialist Katelyn McCulloch brings a gravity-defying twist to the role of Ben Gunn.

It's an exciting first for the Stratford Festival! Katelyn McCulloch takes the traditionally male role of Ben Gunn to a whole new level of adventure with her spectacular onstage aerial silks acrobatics

"I like to say that I'm a dancer with a degree in acting who ran away and joined the circus," quips Ms McCulloch. A native of Tantallon, Nova Scotia (near Peggy's Cove), she grew up knowing that she wanted to pursue a performance career. During her theatre studies at York University, one of her movement instructors suggested that she give aerial classes a whirl - and from that point on, there was no turning back.

"I took courses at Cirque-ability in Toronto - covering silks, hoops, trapeze, rope, etc.," she says. "These classes didn't come cheap, so I offered to work for them - even just cleaning the floors - in exchange for training. As it turned out, my teacher trained me to take over as an instructor to cover her when she went on maternity leave, and that way I not only got to learn the tools of my trade, but I got my dream job."

Ms McCulloch quite literally has high hopes for combining serious acting with aerial work. She's the founder and Artistic Director of the aerial theatre company No Parachute Theatre - dedicated to teaching aerialists to not only perform their acrobatic feats but also to become good actors who can seamlessly handle complex text along with physical feats. She thinks that the marriage of these two skill sets could open up a new and vastly exciting type of theatre experience for audiences.

Treasure Island director Mitchell Cushman was an acquaintance of Ms McCulloch's and knew her work. "We met for a beer last August, and Mitchell asked me lots of questions about how one would be able to incorporate silks into his production. At first, I thought I'd be training an actor for Ben Gunn - I was thrilled when I found out that he wanted me to do it!"

A season at Stratford is a dream for any young performer, and Ms McCulloch couldn't be more thrilled. Besides her double role as Bennett and Ben Gunn in Treasure Island, she's playing three characters - Panik, Melody and Lee - in The Breathing Hole, and also appears in Romeo and Juliet - in which she understudies Juliet.

"It's so busy and such fun," she says. "I am working a full range of characters and getting great opportunities to hone my performance craft. I haven't been put into a box as some kind of circus monkey. Being here is allowing me to grow as an artist and develop all of my skills."

Using circus arts to help tell the onstage story is what excites Ms McCulloch the most. "Having Ben Gunn move about the set with silks isn't just about it being cool to look at: hiding up in the trees and moving from place to place high overhead makes absolute sense for the character. It's not just a novelty act - it's the key to Ben Gunn's survival."

There have been other discoveries along the way: Ms McCulloch is pleased and touched to find that her Ben Gunn is being seen as a role model for young girls.

"What I love about Ben is that she isn't a female character whose only concern is a romance with the lead male. She is on her own unexpected hero's journey. Ben sincerely wants to help Jim, and their entire interaction is based on a close bond of true friendship. And cheese! She glorifies the eating of cheese, and not worrying about watching what a girl eats!"

In a year in which the Wonder Woman film has captured the imaginations of a new generation of young girls, a fearless, manic and spectacular Benn Gunn is just the ticket. "I've had fan mail that's made me teary-eyed," says Ms McCulloch. "One little girl told me that when she heard Ben Gunn was being played as a girl, she worried it might not be as good - but she loved it once she saw how kooky and brave and fun the character was.

"It made me realize just how important it is to have strong women and girl roles on stage. Young girls need representation - they need to see that they are just as good and funny and strong and entertaining as boys. Ben Gunn is bonkers, but she's fully realized and fully herself. Also, Dr. Livesay being a woman is another character type altogether - a role model for more thoughtful and intellectual little girls. We even have the female pirates, who are just as wild and dangerous and fun as their male counterparts. Putting these roles out there is the sort of thing that can change perceptions and show that girls really can do anything."

Facing unique challenges - like working alongside the director and technical team on how to build a track of silks movements that felt realistic for the show, and asking questions like how to make it possible to offer circus on stage at this level over such a long season - has been a great learning experience for Ms McCulloch, her fellow performers and the entire crew.

"It is something one really has to pace out properly," she says. "It's one thing to do a single performance for a special event - you can go nuts and really push out the tricks. But when you are performing three or four times a week for months, you need to be mindful of the toll it takes and look after your body.

"The tech team at Stratford is amazing - they show such faith and are so helpful at giving me whatever I need. Even the wardrobe folks ensured that my costume specifications worked for the type of performance I do: tight clothing is essential because I can't get material caught on the silks and get stuck.

"The marriage of circus arts and theatre is a new niche in development, and here at the Avon Theatre, I feel like we are cracking open new questions and moving this type of collaboration forward."

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Treasure Island is a Schulich Children's Play production.

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Staging Sexuality in Bakkhai

Our bold production of Euripides’ ancient tragedy involves a first for the Festival – an intimacy choreographer.

Be warned: Bakkhai is not for the faint of heart.

In what is often hailed as Euripides' greatest tragedy, the demigod Dionysos exerts an overwhelming spiritual hold over his female followers, the Bakkhai. Updating the ancient Athens of mythology to an era of modern dress and laptop computers, Jillian Keiley's acclaimed production makes that hold all the more disturbing. Reality seems to tip sideways as the wildness of cult worship overtakes all those whom it touches - with brutal results. 

Female power and sexuality are unabashedly on display in the writhing, ecstatic tantric rituals enacted by the Bakkhai, who also serve as the play's chorus. Though there is no nudity, the intimacy of their movement is intense and voluptuous. Because of its emphasis on interactive sensuality, the production's artistic credits include a role unprecedented at the Stratford Festival: that of intimacy choreographer.

Toni Sina was engaged to oversee and guide the actors through a rehearsal and performance experience that could have been traumatic if not handled with due care, in an atmosphere of genuine respect and close attention to detail.

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Ms Sina started her theatrical career as a fight choreographer but became increasingly aware of the risks also inherent in onstage intimacy. In too many instances, she saw productions failing to set proper boundaries, allowing scope for improvised moves in performance that could act as personal triggers. Many actors, particularly young female ones, could be traumatized by such experiences, even to the point of leaving the industry altogether.

"In stage combat, the danger is physical," she explains. "If something goes wrong, you can get poked in the eye or stabbed in the arm. But in portraying an intense intimate scene, an actor can be put in emotional and mental danger. There need to be strict guidelines and boundaries set in place, and actors need to be able to put up a sort of mental barrier so that they are less vulnerable."

Even the best directors may not always know what signs to look out for in choreographing and rehearsing scenes of sexuality, and their actors may not feel comfortable discussing the process. That is where Ms Sina's experience makes all the difference. By developing a clear roadmap for intimate scenes, agreed on in advance by everyone involved, Ms Sina's work empowers the performers and ensures their emotional health and safety.

It also contributes a key artistic element to a production that has left many audience members stunned by its power and beauty. Anne Carson's brilliant translation of the text is accessible and engaging, with moments of great humour and pathos driving the action inexorably toward its horrific and bloody climax. The entire cast give bravura performances, and Gordon Miller's Pentheus, Mac Fyfe's Dionysos and Lucy Peacock's Agave will be seared into the audience's memories long after the play is done. At the beating heart of the drama, the chorus of Bakkhai mesmerize with their beautifully sung verse and ecstatic dance - at once seductive and terrifying.

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Production support for Bakkhai is generously provided by M.E.H. Foundation

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Check Out August’s Forum!

Our unmissable series of guest speakers, music, special performances and dining events has something for everyone.

Space is limited so don't delay: book now for these unique experiences and enjoy your explorations with Stratford's Forum. These are just a few highlights, so be sure to visit the Forum page on our website for a full list of offerings!

Upcoming featured events:

Bothered and Betrothed | August 9
Company members Sarah Afful, Sara Farb, Anusree Roy and Shannon Taylor hold a candid discussion about a woman's agency and options in her affairs of the heart, from arranged marriage to respectability politics, casual online encounters and more.

Jane Urquhart's Fifty Things | August 12
Jane Urquhart's 150th-birthday gift to Canada is a collection of fifty short vignettes that each tell a story of who we are through a poetic examination of a single Canadian object - everything from a Nobel Peace Prize medal to an Innu tea doll. Join the author as she shares some of these stories and how the journey of writing this book influenced her own understanding of identity.

The Artist's Voice | August 19
In the 150 years since Confederation, our awareness of the complexity of Canadian identity has grown. How do our writers navigate the process of capturing the diverse and shifting narratives of our country's history and culture? Join Colleen Murphy, acclaimed playwright of The Breathing Hole, Sharon Pollock, celebrated playwright of The Komagata Maru Incident, and Colleen Wagner, author of the Governor General's Award-winning play The Monument, for a candid discussion on the playwright's process, imagination, cultural intersection and collaboration.

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The Awakening | August 20
Today, one in 10 Canadians is descended from the more than 100,000 children who emigrated from Great Britain through the Home Child program between 1860 and 1939. Stratford's own Annie Macpherson Home on Avon Street was owned and operated by its namesake, one of the founding philanthropists in this Victorian-era movement, bringing more than 8,000 children to the area to work as indentured farm labourers and domestics.

From the chance discovery and subsequent preservation of an unassuming building in Toronto, documentary filmmaker M. Eleanor McGrath explores the largely unknown history of Canada's British Home Child migration movement in her short documentary film Forgotten.

Along with the screening, Ms McGrath and other guests, including Phil McColeman, Member of Parliament for Brantford-Brant, and Pat Maloney, a former Home Child, discuss the repercussions of this program and the contribution of these young labourers to our national identity in a candid conversation with audience Q&A.

Reconstructing History | August 23
In a discussion led by award-winning journalist Haroon Siddiqui, composer and singer Kiran Ahluwalia, athlete and human rights activist Pardeep Singh Nagra, and actor and producer Ali Kazimi reflect from their personal experience on the impact of Canada's early exclusionary immigration policies and how they continue to be felt in our country today.

NEW: Tales of the Spirit Bear | August 27
Artists from DAREarts and students from the communities of Attawapiskat, Webiquie and Kettle and Stony Point First Nations have partnered to create stories based on the ideas of the Spirit Bear. This presentation showcases a workshop held earlier this year that had a profound impact on the lives of the students in these communities.

Middleton and More | August 30

While The Changeling is one of the great Jacobean tragedies, Thomas Middleton was also a great writer of comedies, particularly the city plays depicting contemporary London in all its lustful, conniving, mercantile glory. Robert Cushman, with members of the company, examines Middleton's tragic and comic genius - two sides of the same glittering coin.

Just announced - new September events! On sale beginning August 2.

The Play's the Thing: Fiction, Drama and Reality | September 10

"A play is fiction - and fiction is fact distilled into truth" (Edward Albee).
Is fiction more or less true than our daily, lived experience? Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and creator of Self Authoring, joins Kim Solga, Associate Professor of English and Writing Studies at the University of Western Ontario and Dr. Suvendrini Lena a Neurologist and playwright in a conversation examining the relationship between fiction, drama, the formation of individual identity and reality. 

Inside the Invictus Games | September 23
The Invictus Games were created by Britain's Prince Harry in 2014. This international Olympic-style event invites wounded, injured or sick armed-services personnel and veterans to compete in sports. To mark the opening day of the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, retired Leading Seaman and 2017 Invictus Games Ambassador, Bruno Guevremont speaks to his almost 15 years with the Royal Canadian Navy and his experience as the Canadian team captain for the 2016 Invictus Games. 

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Stratford Festival HD Comes to CBC This Summer!

The next two films in our acclaimed HD Shakespeare series will be broadcast on CBC this month.
Our celebrated productions of Macbeth and Love's Labour's Lost are coming to a television screen near you. Curl up on the couch and enjoy!

Each broadcast will be shown in two parts with a short interval and no commercial breaks.

Tune in to CBC at 1 p.m. on the following dates:

Macbeth - Sunday, August 20

Love's Labour's Lost - Sunday, August 27
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Stratford Festival HD is sponsored by Sun Life Financial as part of their Making the Arts More Accessible™ program.

Support for Stratford Festival HD is generously provided by Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, the Jenkins Family Foundation, the Henry White Kinnear Foundation, Ophelia & Mike Lazaridis, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Sandra & Jim Pitblado, the Slaight Family Foundation, Robert & Jacqueline Sperandio, and an anonymous donor.

Support for Stratford Festival HD has also been provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Canadian distribution is through Cineplex, which specializes in bringing world-class events and performances to the big screen.

U.S. and international distribution is through SpectiCast, the fastest growing event cinema marketing and distribution company in the world.